Culture

Cultivate Community For Your Members

August 17 @ 9:03 pm CDT

Our company is celebrating twenty years in business this month! Over the past two decades, we have had the opportunity to work with scores of membership organizations, and we are so grateful to play a role in their growth. When we launched our company, our mission was clear: help membership and trade associations engage and prepare for younger generations using the data generated from quantitative and qualitative research. Over the past two decades, I’ve discovered what makes an organization thrive – and struggle to survive. Regardless of the size or industry, a strong sense of community and belonging is at the forefront of any successful membership association. I initially began my company because of my negative experience working for a membership association. I was in my twenties, and from the outset,  I felt like an outsider. In other words, I didn’t feel like I belonged. The organization didn’t employ many other women, and many of my colleagues were older and resistant to change. As I looked around and took stock of the lack of diversity and innovation, I feared for the future of our company. However, when I expressed concern or new ideas, I was met with patronizing responses that essentially meant “there’s nothing to worry about here.” Unfortunately, this attitude continues to plague many of the organizations I work with today, but luckily, I’ve discovered the antidote: make your members feel like they belong.  In recent years, “diversity,” “equity,” and “inclusion” have become buzzwords in the universal association lexicon. As a society, you’d think that our values, attitudes, and beliefs would have progressed compared to our ancestors, but as a whole, we still struggle to have an inclusive mindset when it comes to specific demographics. Of course, these ideals should be central to your organization’s mission, but what concerns me is the forgotten fourth buzzword: belonging. There is a key difference between inclusion and belonging, and associations need to take note. Belonging, by definition, means…

Read More

NextGen: Ready Or Not, Here They Come!

August 17 @ 9:03 pm CDT

Are you a millennial? In my work as a generational researcher, I’ve found there are two ways people typically react when faced with this question. If they are a millennial, they tend to reluctantly admit it as if they are embarrassed. If they aren’t, they emphatically exclaim, “No, thank goodness!” Both negative responses fascinate me because they are indicative of society’s attitudes towards this demographic. So, what was your response? Whether you’re a millennial or not, your organization’s future depends upon younger generations, so it’s time to adapt! Millennials, or “Generation Y,” were born between 1981 and 1996. When they came of age, it was during an era of technological advancement and disruption. They are the largest generation in history (in addition to being the most researched), having been influenced by major economic and cultural events, including the 2008 financial crisis, the war on terror, and the dot com bubble – to name a few.  They grew up with unprecedented access to information – most of which was at their fingertips – and, as a result, are highly educated consumers and communicators. Their life experience is one that has been characterized by globalization, customization, and instant gratification. In short, Millennials are unique in many ways, and reaching them will require new and unique approaches that many associations have not yet mastered, let alone thought about. “Unique” is often synonymous with “misunderstood.” Millennials are often the most misunderstood and criticized generation in history because they have ushered in an era of broad-scale change and innovation. When you think about it, Generation Y is the personification of change.  Let’s face it – change is uncomfortable. It pushes us, stretches us, and as a society, we’ve never been good at welcoming new ideas from younger generations. As the saying goes, “Kids these days…” – you fill in the blank. It’s a sentiment we hear with each passing generation that usually ends with: “…they’re lazy!” “…they’re entitled!” “…they’re difficult to…

Read More

A Recipe for Great Culture

, , ,
August 17 @ 9:03 pm CDT

A great recipe is one that uses quality ingredients, is made with special care, and loved by all who are gathered to try it. It may be an unusual metaphor, but the culture within your organization isn’t much different from a spectacular dish that draws everyone to the table. What if I were to tell you that there is a secret recipe for fostering a truly great culture that will attract more members? Furthermore, what if the ingredients are already at your fingertips?  Culture contributes to the feeling that people get whenever they interact with your organization. Members want to feel positive and secure within the organization and to be inspired by its leaders. They want to feel driven to contribute and participate. You have to make sure all association stakeholders are working together as a team, towards a common good.   I once heard the expression, “culture eats strategy for breakfast” and it wasn’t until years ago, when I was working for an organization in crisis, that I finally understood what it meant. Within a three-year timespan, we had experienced a 75% turnover rate amongst employees and worked under three different executives. These disruptions resulted in confusion, chaos, and ultimately, discontentment. Board members were disengaged and lacked a presence within the organization. This lack of leadership will directly contribute to conflict within the membership. Strategies were developed to address these problems, but ultimately, the same issues kept surfacing.   Looking back now, I’ve come to realize that although an association can have a beautiful, robust strategy, it will backfire if a positive culture is not the norm. In other words, negative culture will consume an organization, regardless of the strategies that are intended to strengthen it.   The quality of an association’s culture directly correlates with the efficacy of its leadership and the collaborative efforts of its stakeholders. Throughout my career, I’ve encountered several organizations in crisis. I’ve also learned that the recipe for a thriving culture…

Read More
A group of office workers at a conference table with laptops

Getting Leaders On Board With Change

August 17 @ 9:03 pm CDT

How to approach leaders that are stuck in tradition and often struggle with changing or trying something new. I’ve been a futurist for 20 years, and at just about every conference I’ve presented, someone has come up to me afterwards and said something similar to this: “I agree with what you say about the need to change, engage younger generations, and plan for the future — but I can’t apply it. I’m not the leader. And the people I work for have no desire to change. The people I work for are stuck in the past.” This is a space where many people exist, working in an organization underneath a leader or board of directors who either can’t or won’t be open to the concept of change. As a result, these team members feel powerless to innovate. They have ideas, but they believe they have no voice. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the 20th century, leadership was the equivalent of power, fueled by a top down, ‘do-it-because-I-said-so’ approach. It was a role that had to be earned over time, restricted to people with significant experience and a specific job title. In its era, this approach to leadership was effective. Here and now, this approach is highly ineffective. Here and now, organizations need leaders who are willing to disrupt the status quo and be open to new ideas and solutions. Here and now, the best leaders are visionary and add value to an organization—not slow it down or kill initiative. Regrettably, too many people think about and define leadership as though we’re still working in the 20th century. They think leadership remains limited to positions and titles and say things like “my leader won’t change”. If you haven’t heard it before, I will say it now: A leader who refuses to change isn’t permission to be complacent. It’s an outdated, irrelevant notion that people in ivory towers, sitting at mahogany board tables should grant…

Read More
welcome sign

Creating Positive Culture For Your Association

August 17 @ 9:03 pm CDT

Culture is not some inanimate object to scoff at or neglect. Fueled by economic decline, rapidly changing technology, and demographic shifts, culture is more powerful than ever. Culture is not some inanimate object to scoff at or neglect. Fueled by economic decline, rapidly changing technology, and demographic shifts, culture is more powerful than ever. Here are a few tips for creating a positive culture for your association: Gain support. Start with people who have considerable influence in the organization. (Note: The board and senior staff aren’t always the most influential.) If you get the influencers committed to change, cultural challenges will be easier to resolve. Provide proof. In the 1990s a New York Police Commissioner made his top brass—including himself—ride the subways day and night to understand why frightened New Yorkers had come to call it the “Electric Sewer.” Instead of just lecturing on the need for change, get people to experience the harsh realities that make it necessary. Focus on values. Core values form the foundation on which the association performs work and behaves. Core values are who you are and why, not who, you serve. If you’re serious about your values, and if you hire (and even fire) around them, you’ll have a culture that speaks of who you are and who you want to be. Welcome. Associations have about a 60-day window of opportunity from the time a member joins until that member decides whether to renew the membership. An association should strive to create a positive experience for members year-round, but that first 60 days are especially critical to making members feel welcome, appreciated, and engaged. Details, details. It’s hard to feel good about your membership if you don’t have any idea how it’s benefitting you. There should be no mystery or exclusivity within your association. Be open with, and effectively communicate to, the membership on a consistent basis via multiple communication streams. Celebrate. Every person, regardless of age or influence, wants to be appreciated. How do…

Read More
communication between generations

Is Your Association’s Culture Helping Or Hurting Member Recruitment And Retention?

August 17 @ 9:03 pm CDT

As an association executive, you may have the power to change your association’s mission with the stroke of a pen. And you may have the ability to hire, fire, promote and demote people with relatively little effort. But changing an entrenched culture is the toughest task you will face. To do so, you must win the hearts and minds of your staff and membership, and that requires a great deal of effort and persuasion. Culture is not something you can actually see, yet it permeates the environment and experiences your association creates for its members. It’s the values, beliefs, assumptions, experiences, and habits that create your association’s behavior and ways of working together. Culture is powerful. Now, more than ever, culture has the muscle to make or break your association. Here’s why: The recent recession, coupled with an extraordinary technology boom, has forced members to question the value of your association’s membership. Data has shown that often younger generations are driven by personal happiness and are heavily influenced by an organization’s culture. In other words, culture makes a significant difference in how effective your association is and will be at recruiting and retaining members and generating revenue. Economic decline and rapidly changing technology have made associations vulnerable. Members of all ages are likely questioning the return on investment for their dues. The youngest will continue to pose this question largely because these generations define and respond to culture differently. Generational differences can spur cultural challenges for an association, but there are other causes, as well. Resistance to change, lack of management savvy, poor customer service, unwieldy boards, and role confusion can all lead to culture problems. Here are a few red flags that will pop up when culture is a concern: high turnover among staff, volunteers, or board difficulty recruiting or retaining members negative feedback from your members or others emotional outbursts (e.g., arguments, storming out of a meeting, and so forth) no-shows (e.g., board members…

Read More
wave

The Millennial Wave

August 17 @ 9:03 pm CDT

Sarah Sladek was interviewed as a contribution to this article by CEO Update. Associations would seem to have a leg up when it comes to attracting millennial employees. This generation, according to research, wants to be inspired by meaningful work, and associations are mission-driven organizations. But the reality is often different. Many CEOs find themselves challenged by recruiting, managing and retaining millennial staff. “You can’t twirl your arms without coming across a news story about millennials in the workplace,” said Paul Bellantone, CEO of Promotional Products Association International. “It came to a point where we needed to not just acknowledge it, but respond to it in meaningful ways.” Read the complete article here.

Read More